This document gives an individual the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.
The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (Advance Directive) Includes:
How does a Power of Attorney For Health Care work?
A power of attorney is a written agreement that authorizes a trusted individual to make decisions on your behalf and in your best interests. That person, or agent is tasked with carrying out your wishes, often times when you are unable to direct them how to do so. That can come with some pretty important consequences when dealing with things like finances or your health.
It should come as no surprise, then, that people often have questions about who they should choose to act as their agent. It is not a decision to take lightly, no doubt. But, with some thought and a thorough understanding of exactly what an agent does, chances are that practically anyone can come up with a choice they are comfortable with and confident in.
Who should be chosen to act as your agent?
The main thing to keep in mind when choosing a health care agent is that you should choose someone that you trust. After all, this person will be making decisions on your behalf, and if there’s any question that the person you have in mind to serve as your agent may not be able to act impartially, you may want to reconsider.
Most people choose a trusted family member, but the agent doesn’t have to be related. Close friends or other trusted individuals can often be just as good, if not better choices, depending on individual circumstances.
Whomever you choose should typically possess the following characteristics:
a) Be at least 18 years old;
b) Be familiar with you and your wishes;
c) Be trustworthy enough to carry on your wishes even when they may not agree with them;
d) have the ability to navigate complex family dynamics and be comfortable disagreeing with what family members or other loved ones may want for you if he or she determines that such choices aren’t in your best interest;
e) is comfortable discussing sensitive subjects with your health care providers and is able to comprehend the consequences of specific courses of treatment;
f) Can be available on short notice to act on your behalf, if needed (often it is more suitable to select someone close geographically rather than someone that may need to fly across the country).
After selecting an agent, what things should the agent know?
Once an agent is selected and agrees to serve, a power of attorney gives the agent the legal authority to act. But, a no matter how well drafted, a power of attorney can’t reflect the intricacies of your wishes, values, individual preferences, morals and desires. Instead, it simply (except for a few exceptions) gives another person the ability to essentially step into your shoes and make decisions for you as you would in a given situation if you had the ability.
Because of that reality, it’s essential to ensure that your agent really knows what’s important to you. Specifically, you’ll want to discuss with your agent:
a) What do you value in life?
b) Are there other trusted individuals in your life that you’d hope the agent would consult with when making decisions?
c) What are your thoughts on life-sustaining treatment, and would you like to live as long as technically possible or avoid prolonging life if it means essentially being attached to machines for the remainder of yours?
d) Should specific religious beliefs that need to be considered as the agent makes decisions?
Not only is it important to make sure your agent knows those things, but I always recommend that those signing powers of attorney make sure that their loved ones know those things as well.
What are some situations where my agent may be called upon to act?
Your agent will act whenever you are unable to do so for yourself. Typically, that is in situations where you are incapacitated or no longer possess the ability to make sound decisions for yourself.
The most common situations when an agent becomes active in making decisions for the principal are:
a) When the principal lacks the mental capacity to act, for example, due to Alzheimer’s or another degenerative disease.
b) When severe injury, like a stroke, leads to the inability to make decisions.
c) When severe trauma has caused a prolonged period of unconsciousness, for example, a car accident that causes a coma to follow.
While the first two situations are much more common amongst older adults, none of us are invincible and, no matter how hard we try, sometimes accidents happen. It’s important in those situations for everyone over the age of 18 to make sure their families know their wishes and they execute the appropriate legal documents to ensure that the right people are able to make decisions for them. Otherwise, the law by default gives that authority to a surrogate, who is typically a family member whose relation depends on your specific situation. Sometimes those results don’t sync up with the choices an individual would necessarily make.
For example, an engaged 25 year old in a long-term relationship may very well wish for his fiancée to make decisions should something happen to him. But, the law usually does not go that route. Instead, it may be the young man’s parents who are looked upon to make decisions.